As a part of a series celebrating the relationship between art, literature, and film, the “Le Conversazionia/Films of My Life” event featured two prize-winning novelists: Patrick McGrath (Spider, Asylum) and Zadie Smith (White Teeth, On Beauty). Theses authors discussed some of the films that have influenced their lives and work.
I attended this event’s after party held at the Giovanni Rana Pastificio and Cucina Restaurant (located in the Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Avenue). The restaurant specializes in high quality, artisanal pasta. The fresh pasta is made daily in a glass-enclosed Pasta Studio. This full service restaurant makes hand-selected rare and regional Italian products and prepared foods available to take home.
Immediately upon entering the restaurant’s large and welcoming wood themed space replete with hanging pots, displayed antique culinary machines, an open kitchen, and a long inviting bar, I was introduced to Antonella Rana, restaurant founder Giovanni Rana’s daughter-in-law. Ms. Rana epitomizes the ingratiating and passionate Italian host. She said this to me after I asked her to describe her involvement with the restaurant:
“Happiness is the main ingredient of everything that I do from the pasta to greeting the guests. Happiness is a state of heart and mind. Happiness is an ingredient. Happiness adds taste to everything. If you are really tired as the restaurant business can make you, happiness adds to the strength that you have. It is an honor for me to be the face of this place. My family stands behind me here. My father-in-law started the business in the late fifties. Fifty-two years of heritage and passion are here. He is an ambassador; fresh pasta is a flag for the Italian gastronomic culture—the heritage of Italy. It is an honor to create the best pasta possible.”
Experiencing this restaurant made me exceedingly happy indeed. Four food stations, three brimming with mouth watering pasta concoctions and one offering sushi fish portions, were on offer. I asked the cooks at each station to describe the dishes they were creating. Here are the answers to my question:
- Pasta station one: Cappelletti with prosciutto.
- Pasta station two: Gnocchi ricotta instead of potatoes with braised short ribs with a pinch of espresso powder.
- Raw fish station: Hamachi, tuna, and salmon.
Pasta station three. Pasta station three was in a class by itself. King crab legs were piled high to the extent that they evoked an ocean monster movie. The chef said that the ingredients were “pasta with king crab, jalapeno, garlic—and love.” His use of “love” is part and parcel to Ms. Rana’s “happiness.”
The staff could not have been more accommodating. One of the pasta chef’s offered to prepare the pasta without sauce especially for me. And the raw fish chef, seeing that I was trying to be on a diet, made sure that I had a large portion of fish.
After enjoying the wonderful food and the lively crowd, it was time to get to the heart of the evening: speaking to guests of honor Zadie Smith and Patrick McGrath. In that Ms. Smith is very tall and thin and usually wears turbans, she was very easy to spot. Since she is so brilliant and famous, I had to gather my courage to approach her. She was warm and nice in response to my question about describing what she said at her event. “Talking about movies is fun. It was a good time,” she said. Since I usually spend the preponderance of my time writing literary criticism replete with words like “diachronic” and “hermeneutic,” I welcomed her response’s simplicity.
Next it was time to find Patrick McGrath. This was not as easy as it sounds. It was a real quest to locate a turban-less person wearing nondescript male clothes in a large crowd. Knowing what McGrath looks like, I cut through the crowd on what I thought of as a very purposeful McGrath hunt. With quarry successfully bagged, I asked him the same question I posed to Smith. “People were engaged with us.
I was treated to an evening of great food, and the company of superlative authors–both garnished with happiness and love. After deciding that I should really avoid the chocolate ravioli on offer for desert—and after eating what seemed to me to be all the raw fish the ocean could possibly offer–I made my way home with gratitude that the sky high king crab leg pile was a decoration not meant to be ingested by the guests. Trying to make conversation with famous authors while chomping on king crabs legs would have been mission impossible.
– Marleen Barr
Photos by Chris Lane